i can conjure few tasks where one of the essential ingredients is dried blood. but there i was, the lady in black, digging small graves all over the yard, one hand on the trowel, one hand in the pouch of dried blood.
like the wounds of some civil war battlefield, i sprinkled behind me a crimson-red trail. tossed blood to the wind, let it rain on each grave. a solemn benediction, indeed. a hope that what lay there would not be absconded, stripped from the tomb before its due time.
i felt the urge, but didn’t give in, to tuck little white crosses above each piled mound.
such are the demands of the autumnal garden.
just after the equinox cast its lengthening shadows, you see, i was out planting my bulbs.
i was digging for resurrection, come spring.
but this hot september morning, a morning that had me perspiring and red as a tulip in march, there as i dug in my great swaths of color-to-be, there was little to whisper of promise.
instead there abounded death and destruction. an odd mix of voodoo and witchcraft. with a pinch of botany to boot.
the bulbs, some fat, some not so, wrapped in a papery-sheath, looked each like a fat clove of garlic, or a whole stinky head. every last bulb, a life cycle on hold.
and the holes where i lay them were often disturbing a worm. a worm sliced in half, i would think, is disturbed. the mouth of my trowel, without warning or even a knock, had come crashing through roofs of many a subterranean bedroom. the worms, alas, were rudely awakened.
and then there was my sorceress’ phalanx of amulets and prescriptions: the dried blood; the bulb-booster fertilizer (actually bone and feather that’s ground to a meal, if you can stomach such sinister fuels); the odoriferous something i bathed each of the bulbs in, something they promised would keep the chipmunks and squirrels from making quick lunch of my tulips and squill and tete-a-tete daffodils.
such folly, this.
or is it?
if it works, if i cross my fingers, if the stars align, if just the right rainfall and snowfall bring drink to my bulbs, if the freeze doesn’t sink in too deep, if the blood does what it’s supposed to (and no, not bring on the vampires), well, then, i’ll have me a garden come march and april and may.
just when i’ll need it, i think. when i’m thisclose to pulling my hairs out, when i want to burn every boot in the house and all of the mittens and the scarves and the tassle-topped hats, as well.
i am planting my sanity-keeper, really.
that’s what a bulb does.
it gets you through the long, barren winter. the winter when white, darkening to sooty gray-black, is the prevailing hue of the world on the other side of the glass.
ah, but not when you’ve planted a yard full of bulbs. then, you see whole other colors. colors no one, besides you and your kaleidoscope eyes, can manage to see.
a bulb is license to imagine a landscape, to muse on the underground labor. to know that something’s at work, life is stirring, awaiting the bell for rebirth.
you look out your window in winter, you see the cobalt blue of the siberian squill, great pooling puddles of it. you see the double-white of the mount hood tulips, there by the path to the door. poking out through the soil, just after the snowdrops, that most blessed first wisp of survival.
you’ve made it, the bulb chorus will tell you. you survived the long cruel winter.
ah, but before there is resurrection, there must be death. it’s the very crux of the matter, the root of the definition, spelled out right there on page 1545 of webster’s unabridged: “a rising from the dead, or coming back to life.”
and so, on a day when the sunlight is golden. on a day when the leaves are just starting to blush and run out of green ink, i sink trowel into earth.
i am the digger of graves. into each wound in the dirt, i lay to rest all that i’ve gathered, all i could not leave behind.
stood there at the garden shop, i did, drooled over all of the choices. you would think i was picking penny candy. tossing this bulb and that in my little brown bag.
lord knows, i never remember which is which by the time i get home. that’s when the sorting begins. the purplish hyacinths, the bulbs that make your skin sort of sting, they go in one pile. and the all of the rest, herded like so many sheep. each kind to its own little flock. little bitty scilla–can something so breathtaking come from so little? dare i attempt a tulip at all, seeing as the squirrels come from miles for a bite of a tulipy lunch?
then in my head, the plotting begins. the mapping out of the graveyard. who gets buried where? what finds itself locked in solitary confinement? who gets tossed in together?
the interment could stretch on for hours, but i too often get tired.
by the end of the morning, there were lots of mass graves. i’ll leave my bulbs to wrestle it out. shove and push, make a fuss, all through the winter.
i won’t hear even a whimper. for i’ve buried them and muffled them too. the inches of compost, the droplets of blood, the piles of hoped-for snow, it is the buffer, it keeps me from knowing just how raucous a crowd i’ve buried out there in my cemetery masquerading as a bright blooming bouquet, come the months after the nothing, the silence, the waiting.
do you go bulb crazy too? do you ever feel like some sort of a witch, plying your botanical craft? partaking of wizardry there in your soils? i’m always amazed that what feels like so much on my hands and my knees some autumnal day, comes up so sparsely in spring. i do plant in the hundreds. must we go for the thousands and thousands to get what i call the shopping-mall swath? anyone yet picked up a trowel, dug up a grave for your garden-to-come? and, mostly, what of the promise of life to come, bounded up in a paper-sheathed, tucked-under-ground bulb?